It’s Still Not too Late

October 1999


        I left the woods to return to the city. On this day I was walking on state forest land 10 miles east of town. It was a pleasant morning walk in a fall forest of green pines and beautiful yellow, orange, red, and maroon colored leaves. Fall flowers were everywhere: purple and white, golden yellow and dried brown. I heard the songs of birds, the rustling of leaves, and the constant background buzz of insects. I was sad to have to leave. It was one of those fall days when I knew there would not be another one like it, not this year anyway.

        I take the back road to Highway 54 and head west towards town following a delivery truck advertising Miller Lite beer on its rear door. On the radio I listen for music but seem to find only advertisements for local businesses and multinational products. I hear ads for a bank, a bar, an auto dealership, a grocery store, and a furniture warehouse, as well as ads for Pepsi, Budweiser, Ford trucks, and a new Disney movie. I get to the edge of the city where 54 meets and crosses over Interstate Highway 94. This is the commercial zone linking the freeway with the east side of the city. It is a tunnel of advertising signs vying for viewing space. The big corporate names and logos are there represented by McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Perkins, Wal-mart, Burger King, Subway, Kwik Trip, Amoco, Citgo, Taco Bell, Holiday Inn, and Best Western. Huge billboards loom along the way selling Jeep sport utility vehicles, Marlboro cigarettes, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and a chance to get rich quick at the local casino. Small businesses fill in the remaining spaces with signs selling paint, jewelry, gas, Chinese food, motel rooms, commercial property, and more, much more. Store front windows display signs detailing products on sale inside. In the 

parking lot of the hardware store a farmer sells vegetables from the back of his pick-up truck advertising sweet corn at two dollars a dozen on a 3-foot by 5-foot hand painted cardboard sign. I suddenly become aware that I need sweet corn and pull over to buy a dozen ears. The farmer tells me that this is the last of his corn crop. For an extra dollar I buy six more ears.

        I continue my way home. The traffic becomes congested as it narrows on the bridge that crosses the Black River and enters the downtown area. The stop light turns red, the traffic stops. Main Street fills my vision with more signs. Cafe, furniture, pizza, insurance, real estate, antiques, office supplies, gifts, bakery, deli, liquor, appliances, shoes, clothing, and more. The bank sign flashes the time, temperature, and the latest interest rates for car and home loans. My radio continues to sell me Diet Coke and used cars. The light turns green and I turn right on Highway 12 that connects again with Interstate 94 on the northwest edge of the city. The barrage of signs continues increasing in number as I get closer to Interstate 94. Goodyear, Dairy Queen, Phillips 66, Winston, Pepsi, Conoco, Amoco, Pontiac, Buick, ATMs, KFC, Hardees, U-Haul, Power Ball and Mega-Bucks, and more, plus billboards advertising local grocery stores, Chevy cars, Camel cigarettes, and a supper club several miles ahead.

        I turn right on Washington Street, go several blocks, pass by a garage sale, turn left on Rose Street, and I’m home.

        I live in a small Midwest town with a population of about 4,000. I live in a split-level ranch house in a quiet suburban middle class neighborhood. I park in the driveway and upon getting out of my van, am approached by a man with a vacuum cleaner. He wants to demonstrate how well it cleans on my living room rug. I spend 10 minutes saying no to his free demonstration. He finally leaves as I walk away. The frozen food man drives up in his truck just then, gets out, 

hands me a brochure, and gives me a sales pitch on fish sticks, corn dogs, and butter brickle ice cream. I end up buying a half-gallon of chocolate cherry ice cream.

        I pick up the newspaper on my way into the house, put the sweet corn on the counter and the ice cream in the freezer.

        Today’s newspaper contains fliers from Menards, Hardware Hank, Ace Hardware, Farm and Fleet, K-Mart, Shopko, and Penneys. Everything is on sale. Spend money and save! The paper itself is 70 percent advertisements, selling everything from clothes, TV’s, stereo equipment, sporting goods, computers, cars, trucks, boats, banks, stocks, bonds, perfume, jewelry, soup to nuts, and kitchen sinks too. Before I have a chance to read any news the phone rings. I answer. Some man wants to know if I want to save money on long distance calls and begins to explain how. I tell him I don’t want to switch and say goodbye. Immediately the phone rings again. I say hello. A woman from down south mispronounces my name and begins to read a credit card promotion with my best interest in mind, an introductory offer of 6.9% for six months on all balance transfers. To activate the offer, she just needs to verify several identification numbers. I try to say “no thank you” as nicely as I can, but she doesn’t seem to hear the no part. I end up having to say no impolitely leaving off the thank you part just as the doorbell rings. I open the door and find the neighbor kids, Mark and Jenny, on my doorstep. Mark is selling magazines for the school science club and Jenny is selling Girl Scout cookies. I pass on the magazines but place an order for two boxes of Thin Mints. As they leave, two clean cut young men in white shirts and ties come forward and comment on what a beautiful day it is. Indeed it is, I say. They say they are from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, or the Jehovah Witnesses, or the Seventh Day Adventists, or the Baptists, I forget which brand of Jesus they were trying to sell me for free. 

They asked me if I was saved. I try to reassure them that they needn’t worry about me. They look at me skeptically. They want to invite themselves into my home and heart and share some scripture. Just then the telephone rings and I’m saved by the bell. I quickly say goodbye taking the tract they hand me. I run to answer the call. “Hello?” There is a pause. “Is anybody there?” I ask. I hear a click, and then a voice asks me if I am the owner of my house. Feeling somehow obligated to tell the voice the truth, I tell the voice that the bank owns my house. The voice does not seem to know how to listen; the voice knows only how to speak. The voice says I can save money if I replace my windows and re-side my house with vinyl siding. The voice asks me if I am interested in saving money by scheduling a free estimate. Before I tell the voice my answer I hang up. Instantly, the phone rings, shocking me. “Hell no! I mean hello, hello.”

        “Hello,” a voice I recognize as a friend answers back.

“Do you have any plans on Thursday night? There’s a speaker from California coming to the Holiday Inn for a special presentation I think you might find interesting.”

        “Oh, really. What’s it about?” I ask.

        “You’ll just have to come and see,” he says vaguely, offering no more details than to say it’s about making some extra money.

        I remind him that counterfeiting money is illegal.

        He laughs and says, “Seriously, it’s easier than counterfeiting and it’s legal! This guy made over $300,000 in two years.”

        “Oh, really,” I say.

        “Really,” he says, “check it out on Thursday night with me. It’s a free lunch and a meal ticket.”

        I tell him I can’t attend because I’m starting a diet that day. I wish him well and diplomatically say goodbye. Suddenly, the TV is on, having been turned on by my 6-year-old son who came running in from outside saying, “The Power Rangers are on! The Power Rangers are on!” Sure enough, a commercial for the Power Ranger action figures is on.

        “Dad, Dad, that’s what I want. Can you buy me the Galaxy Glider with the red Power Ranger? I already have the black and white, and blue and yellow and pink ones. I just gotta have the red one too.”

        Before I can respond, a McDonald’s commercial appears, advertising the newest Happy Meal plastic toys. “Wow, Dad. Let’s go to McDonalds.”

        My son and I are mesmerized by a computer game commercial followed by a Nike shoe ad before the Power Rangers show begins. I pull myself away from the TV to get the mail that just arrived.

        In today’s mail I find mail order catalogs from Daytons, Land’s End, L.L. Bean, J. Crew, Victoria’s Secret, Lego, Eastbay, The Body Shop, and Signals. Each catalog contains enticing pictures and descriptions of hundreds and thousands of products. Sorting through the mail, I come to the car insurance, electric, phone, and credit card bills.

        The only real mail I find today is an envelope addressed to me by me. It’s a self-addressed stamped envelope returned to me from a book publisher. I open the envelope and find my query letter along with a rejection letter from the publisher. The letter informs me that my proposed book of nature writings, social commentary, and art philosophy does not meet their current publishing criteria. They do not see a profitable market for this type of book at this time. They wish me luck in finding a publisher for my book. Another rejection letter to add to my collection.

        Woe is me. Oh, the world of buying and selling. Is there no escape?

        I look out my window. I see blue sky and colored leaves. It’s still a beautiful day. I think I’ll return to the woods and take my family with me. It’s still not too late.